Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2) 1456/98-99
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/ HS+ EA+CA

Legislative Council Panel on Health Services,
Panel on Environmental Affairs
and Panel on Constitutional Affairs

Joint meeting on
Monday, 15 January 1998 at 8:30 am
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

Members of Panel on Health Services

Hon Michael HO Mun-ka (Chairman)(Joint Panel meeting Chairman)
# Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
# Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP
# Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Members of Panel on Environmental Affairs

* Hon Christine LOH (Chairman)(Joint Panel meeting Deputy Chairman)
Hon HUI Cheung-ching (Deputy Chairman)
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon Bernard CHAN
Hon WONG Yung-kan

Members of the Panel on Constitutional Affairs

Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP (Chairman)
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon Martin LEE Chu-ming, SC, JP
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP

Members Absent :

Member of Panel on Health Services

Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
# Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
* Dr Hon YEUNG Sum

Members of Panel on Environmental Affairs

Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon CHOY So-yuk
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP

Members of the Panel on Constitutional Affairs

Hon Margaret NG
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, JP
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP

* Also a member of Panel on Constitutional Affairs
# Also a member of Panel on Environmental Affairs

Public Officers Attending :

Mr Michael SUEN, JP
Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

Dr Margaret CHAN
Director of Health

Mrs Maureen CHAN
Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

Principal Assistant Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

Attendance By Invitation :

Mr Albert LAM
Consultant for the Study of Food Safety and Environmenta Hygiene Services

Clerk in Attendance:

Ms Doris CHAN
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)4

Staff in Attendance :

Ms Eva LIU
Head, Research & Library Services Division

Miss Odelia LEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Mrs Percy MA
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)3

Ms Mariana LEUNG
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)7

I. Outline of research study on food safety control and environmental hygiene in overseas countries
(LC Paper No. CB(2)1057/98-99(01))

The Chairman referred to the draft outline of the research study on food safety control and environmental hygiene in overseas countries proposed by Research & Library Services Division of the Legislative Council Secretariat and invited comments from members. He said that the study would include analysis of the relationship between the authorities for food safety control and the Health Ministers in those countries, and in particular, the operation of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA. Dr LEONG Che-hung agreed and added that the study should also find out how all the four areas of food safety, environmental hygiene, infectious diseases and drug administration were being dealt with in the countries being studied. He pointed out that in the USA, in addition to the FDA, there were the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) responsible for food safety emergencies, surveys and studies on environmental health problems, quarantine enforcement and administration of the national programmes for the prevention and control of diseases. The study should examine the reasons for the division of responsibilities between the two. H/RL

2. Several members shared the view that the study should include information on the control over safety standard of imported food in those countries. This would help members to consider the need for a mechanism to be established in Hong Kong responsible for control of imported food and food additives to ensure that they were up to standard. In this connection, Miss Christine LOH said that she would forward a copy of the paper on food safety produced by the Citizens Party some months ago to the Research & Library Services Division for its reference. H/RL

3. On the number of countries to be covered by this research, the Chairman suggested and members agreed that the Mainland should be included in the study because a large proportion of food in Hong Kong was imported from the Mainland. In view of the time constraint, members agreed that relevant information on the four countries of UK, USA, Japan and Singapore should be ready by the end of March 1999, while information relating to the Mainland could be submitted at a later stage. Dr LEONG Che-hung pointed out that the study could provide useful material for this joint meeting to form a view on the provision of food and environmental services in future, and if a better alternative could be found, the Administration could be asked to review its proposed new structure for such services. H/RL

4. Members noted that the research on the licensing mechanism was would be ready by the end of April 1999.

II. Future Structure for Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene Services
(LC Paper No. CB(2)1057/98-99(02))

5. At the invitation of the Chairman, Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (SCA) introduced Mr Albert LAM, Consultant for the Study on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene Services in Hong Kong (the Consultant) who was attending the meeting to answer members' questions on his Report (the Report). SCA stressed that the Administration agreed in principle to the major recommendations of the Report, but was still studying the details. The primary objectives of the restructuring was to improve cost-effectiveness and enhance accountability in the provision of municipal services, and members' views would be welcome. He informed members that the bill giving effect to the transfer of relevant functions and powers of the Provisional Municipal Councils (PMCs) to the new structure was being drafted and would be submitted to the LegCo in April. He would brief members and discuss with them on the draft bill at the forthcoming meeting. SCA referred to the first two paragraphs of the answer in A4 in the Administration's paper which provided answers to the questions raised by members at the last meeting and assured members that further streamlining and savings would be achieved through rationalisation of services currently undertaken by the two municipal services departments and re-assessment of the priorities of capital projects proposed by the PMCs for the next five years.

Improving coordination among government departments

6. Ms CHAN Yuen-han referred to the reply in A2 of the Administration's paper and said that there was still no clear delineation of responsibilities between the Department of Health (DH) and the new department, especially when a crisis situation arose. She felt that the Administration's reply did not provide any guarantee against the repetition of the chaotic situation in the bird flu incident; and asked for clarification as to which bureau or department would be expected to take up the initiative to coordinate actions of government departments in future food-related crisis situations.

7. The Director of Health (D of H) confirmed that under the new structure, the DH would remain the health authority of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). It would still be responsible for disease surveillance and monitoring and public health education. The new department would mainly deal with food-related matters and environmental hygiene services. She quoted previous cases of food-related diseases to demonstrate how the DH and the new department were expected to co-operate -

  1. In relation to cholera, the disease contracted by many Hong Kong people after travels abroad last year, the DH was responsible for reporting the disease to the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the health authority of Hong Kong. Under the new structure, the DH would still be responsible for the same if the disease was contracted overseas. In future cases of food-related disease contracted locally or food-poisoning, the new department would take the lead. In such cases, the DH would liaise with private medical practitioners and doctors under the Hospital Authority, and carry out investigation according to notifications received. It would then focus on investigation of affected victims and other exposed persons. The new department would carry out investigations and take appropriate actions in relation to the hygiene standard of food premises in the the food production chain, from the manufacturer to the retail outlet.

  2. The other case was a baby food item found to be containing lead of an unacceptable high level. Information was received from the manufacturer overseas, action was taken by the DH and no babies in Hong Kong had been affected. In future cases of a similar nature, only the new department would be involved in monitoring the return of the baby food in question to the manufacturer.

    Having said that, D of H agreed that an effective mechanism ensuring proper coordination between the DH and the new department should be established.

8. The Chairman requested further information on the coordination mechanism and the delineation of responsibilities between the DH and the new department. SCA said that the new bureau was expected to take the lead and would coordinate the efforts of government departments in future food-related crises. It would act as the centre of all relevant information for reporting to the HKSAR Government. As regarding the particular areas of work to be taken up by the DH and the new department, SCA said that such would depend upon the nature of individual cases, examples of which had been quoted by the D of H in paragraph 7 above.

Streamlining the structure

9. Mr LEE Wing-tat pointed out that the Administration had stressed that the main objective of abolishing the PMCs was to streamline the existing structure for provision of municipal services. However, the Administration could only identify reduction of recurrent expenditure for honoraria and allowances of municipal councillors and administrative costs of the two PMC secretariats. And since there would be little change in the number of staff, the proposed restructuring ended up more as a merger of the Urban Services Department (USD) and the Regional Services Department (RSD). Mr LEE added that the concept of streamlining the existing structure for provision of municipal services originated from the Administration, and the Consultant was instructed to carry out relevant studies based on that principle. The Administration should therefore have made some initial consideration on the new structure, and should not keep on saying at this stage that the details had yet to be finalised. He questioned whether the Administration's claim that streamlining could be achieved through abolition of the two PMCs was only a means to win public support for the proposal.

10. SCA explained that in streamlining the existing structure, consideration could be directed towards many aspects. While reduction in staff establishment and administrative costs was more straightforward, changes to on-going projects and services, such as the Clean HK Campaign and hawker control would need careful consideration. There might be a need for changes in fundamental policies but detailed planning and implementation would only be possible when the new department had been set up and had taken over the relevant power and responsibilities. He stressed that in implementing the restructuring, consideration had to be made regarding transfer/re-deployment of existing staff and maintenance of current services. This differed from starting a new structure from scratch. He reiterated that recommendations as contained in the Report were recommendations only. The Administration, having accepted recommendations of the Report in principle, had yet to finalise on details of further streamlining.

11. Mr LEE Wing-tat and Mr Howard YOUNG were of the view that if the Administration could not come up with details at this stage, it should at least be able to project a figure in terms of targetted savings to be achieved. The Administration should also be able to provide a time frame for achieving that target. In response, SCA said that there could not be too much scope for savings in the short term as services had to be maintained. However, in the longer term, there could be room for changes from the policy perspective. He undertook to identify further savings, and provide the relevant figures for members' information when available. Adm

12. Miss Christine LOH asked whether the reason for no substantial reduction in staff establishment was because the Administration could not lay off too many civil servants at one time. Ms Emily LAU said that according to the Report, there should be much room for streamlining the existing structure. She said that if there were indeed surplus staff, the Administration should be honest and say so. Whether the surplus staff were to be laid off was a separate issue. She said that at a discussion with a certain government official on the subject, the official had indicated that there could be up to 30% savings from the current expenditure of the municipal services departments. She considered that the Consultant, having previously been the Director of Urban Services, had conflict of interest and might not be critical and objective enough in identifying shortcomings and in recommending reduction of surplus staff.

13. SCA reiterated that streamlining did not necessarily mean large scale reduction of staff and should not result in cutting certain services. It would be unrealistic to expect that similar services could be provided by less staff across the board. In his view, concern should rather be focused on whether civil servants should continue to be employed for provision of some municipal services; and whether contracting out of such services could achieve further savings. The Administration was considering the most cost-effective way of maintaining existing services. He suggested that the 30% savings as quoted by Ms Emily LAU might have included the savings to be achieved by contracting out services. The Consultant added that paragraphs 10.07, 11.12 and 11.25 of the Report all suggested reducing duplication of efforts and streamlining the existing structure. Furthermore, the savings from the consequential re-deployment among affected government departments as listed in paragraph 11.28 had not been estimated yet. He stressed that in view of the time constraint of having to complete his study within three months, he had concentrated mainly on the new structure and had to leave the arrangements regarding consequential changes and manpower savings to the Task Force to be set up.

The proposed new structure

14. Dr LEONG Che-hung reiterated his support for the centralisation of food safety and environmental hygiene management, but said that he was not convinced that the proposed new structure could achieve the objectives as set out. He pointed out that under the structure, the problems of duplication of work and unclear division of responsibilities remained unsolved. If food-related diseases were to occur in the future, apart from the new bureau, the Health and Welfare Bureau (HWB), the Economic Services Bureau (ESB), the Agricultural and Fisheries Department (AFD) and the DH would all again be involved as in the case of the bird flu incident. The only difference was that the two municipal services departments would be replaced by the new department. He questioned how coordination and division of labour could be improved while the mode of operation remained unchanged. He also expressed grave doubt as to how the DH could discharge its responsibilities of disease control and surveillance if it did not follow up and investigate into the sources of diseases. He emphasised that for effective control of infectious diseases, prevention, surveillance and follow-up investigations must be carried out by the same department.

15. In response, D of H explained that the proposed new structure had taken into consideration the fact that prevention, surveillance and control of food-related infectious diseases involved a wide range of cross-disciplinary and inter-sectoral activities. She said that in respect of food safety control from primary production to the retail end, it would be quite impossible for the DH to be solely in charge. She pointed out that under the new structure, two bureaux (namely the new bureau and the HWB) and two departments (namely the new department and the DH) would be involved in future cases of food-related diseases, while the proposed Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene, with the D of H as an ex-officio member, would advise the new bureau and new department on major policy issues. As regards Dr LEONG's point that there might not be a clear definition of the nature of some infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, which could be transmitted through the air as well as contracted through milk that was not properly pasteurized, D of H explained that the new department would investigate along the food-processing chain while the DH would look after patient-related matters. She further clarified that in the case of reportable diseases such as influenza, DH would still be the department responsible for surveillance and reporting to the WHO.

16. Dr LEONG asked whether SCA would agree to re-consider the proposed structure if a better alternative was put forward. SCA said that the objective of setting up the new bureau was to tackle the problems faced by the government as identified during the bird flu incident. While the Administration had agreed in principle to the setting up of the new policy bureau, it would welcome any views for improvement of the proposal. As regards Dr LEONG's proposal of splitting the HWB into two bureaux, he said that it involved too many changes to the government structure, far exceeded the scope of the present review of district organisations and was outside his sphere. As the new bureau had to deal with environmental hygiene matters as well, he regarded that the proposal contained in the Report would be able to achieve the objectives as laid down, and with the minimum changes. In response, Dr LEONG remarked that any review of the government structure should be for the benefit of public interest as a whole and should not be divided according to individual scope of responsibilities.

17. Dr TANG Siu-tong referred to the post of consultant under the DH which currently provided services to the MCs, and remarked that this consultant was considered as not having provided the necessary advice to the MCs during the bird flu incident. Under the new structure, this consultant post would be seconded from the DH to provide support to the deputy director (food and public health) of the new department and would be in charge of the food research laboratory currently managed by the USD. He questioned how the Administration could guarantee that the consultant to be seconded from the DH would provide adequate advice to the new department and asked whether the DH would continue to share the facilities of the laboratory with the new department.

18. In response, SCA reiterated that the government had not meant to put the blame on the PMCs in the bird flu incident. On the contrary, the government accepted that there were coordination problems within its structure which resulted in the undesirable situation during the incident. This explained why the proposed new structure had aimed at better coordination and clearer delineation of responsibilities. As regards Dr Tang's question of why water safety was not included under the responsibilities of the new bureau, SCA said that the subject came under the Water Supplies Department and was not included in the review.

19. To supplement, D of H said that any problems which might have arisen as a result of the lack of coordination between the two municipal services departments should be separated from the quality of the advice provided by the consultant to the two PMCs. She confirmed that the Government Laboratory would serve both the DH and the new department. She added that the new structure would make it possible to provide many new services, such as carrying out food hazard assessment for formulation of food safety standards, which the DH alone would not be able to take up. These services would in turn guarantee better control in food safety standard and environmental hygiene.

Restaurant and liquor licensing

20. Mr LEE Wing-tat called for a "one-stop" service for restaurant and liquor licensing and asked whether the Administration had conceived any specific proposals to tackle the problem of the lengthly and complicated process for application of the licenses. He further enquired whether the Administration would have a planned timetable for bringing about improvement. Mr CHAN Wing-chan made a similar request and urged the Administration to improve the situation as soon as possible.

21. SCA responded that the Administration was also concerned about the problem. He explained that during the current review of district organisations, priority was given to the setting up of the new bureau and new department which could then take up further reviews and make improvements as necessary. With particular reference to the process of issuing restaurant and liquor licenses, SCA said that the USD and RSD had been working on the problem over the past decade(s) and had not been able to arrive at a new system substantially different from the existing one. It would therefore be unrealistic to expect that a new system could be proposed within a short period of time. He undertook to reflect members' concern to the USD and RSD which were still responsible for the issue of such licences and to invite them to recommend improvements. Adm

22. The Chairman said that he was worried that the Administration might repeat the same comment some years later that as for decade(s), the PMCs could not arrive at any recommendations for improvement in the process of issuing restaurant licences, it would be unrealistic to expect that substantial improvement could be made within a few years' time. Mr LEE Wing-tat also remarked that after the new bureau and new department had been set up, the officials concerned would likely to be too pre-occupied with other priorities to address the licensing problems. In response, SCA said that improvement of the licensing system would be one of the work targets of the new department.

The Consultancy Study

23. Mr Andrew WONG Wang-fat asked about the instructions given to the Consultant when he was commissioned to undertake the Study on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene Services in Hong Kong on 1 August 1998. He asked whether the SCA had instructed that consideration had to be based on the abolition of the two PMCs; and that in transferring the functions of food safety and environmental hygiene to the new structure, no real power should be vested in the District Boards (DBs). SCA responded that the Administration had kept the Constitutional Affairs Panel informed of the progress of the review of district organisations from the consultation stage in June 1998 up till the present. Members should have been aware that the consultancy study was based on the assumption that the two functions of food safety and environmental hygiene were to be centralised, as a result of which a new administrative structure would be necessary.

24. Mr Andrew WONG further expressed the view that according to overseas models quoted in the Report, provision of municipal services and implementation of policies at a district level could be managed at various levels of government. Referring to the Hong Kong situation, there could be a model where formulation of policies was centralised and implementation of such policies delegated to the municipal services department. He therefore queried how the Consultant had come to the conclusions and recommendations as contained in Chapter 4 of the Report; and asked in particular whether the setting up of a new bureau and a new department was the principle agreed upon among departments concerned before the commencement of the Consultancy Study.

25. In response, the Consultant said that the instruction given to him to carry out the consultancy study was as spelt out in paragraph 1.02 of the Report. He also referred to Appendix II of the Report which listed all the government officials he had met in conducting the study. Referring to paragraph 3.31 of the Report, he said that the proposed new structure was based on the principle common to all systems of control for the delivery of food safety and environmental hygiene services - that these systems were based on central government direction and control. Recommendations were then made based on his own judgement and analysis of views obtained, together with his personal experience and consideration of the interest of Hong Kong as a whole. As to Mr Andrew WONG's request to provide the views the government officials had expressed, the Consultant said that he had not kept a record of those interviews, but had instead digested the views for his own consideration.

26. Mr Martin LEE referred to paragraph 15.01 of the Report and said that he was surprised at the great jubilation expressed by the Consultant over the prospect of the birth of the new department and new bureau, which also meant the demise of the two PMCs, on 1 January 2000. He opined that the objective of the whole review of district organisations was to abolish the PMCs and therefore the streamlining so far achieved was the abolition of municipal councillors' seats, while civil servants within the relevant structure were left untouched. In response, the Consultant explained that the feeling of jubilation, great happiness and prosperity referred to the dictionary definition of "millennium" as stated in para 15.01 of the Report, and not to the dissolution of the municipal councils.


27. Members agreed that the next meeting would be held on Monday, 8 February 1999 at 10:45 am to discuss the main provisions of the draft legislation on provision of municipal services.

28. Mr LEE Wing-tat said that he still had many questions concerning the Report and asked whether a further meeting would be held to deal with any outstanding questions. In view of the time constraint, members agreed that any further questions concerning the Report should be forwarded to the Secretariat for onward transmission to the Administration for written replies. They could be discussed at a future meeting if members considered it necessary.

29. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 10:45 am.

Legislative Council Secretariat
9 March 1999